Music Therapy to Benefit Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease

Music Therapy has proven to be particularly effective for persons with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Research in both music therapy and in neuroscience has shown that music can affect function in profound ways. In fact, some neuroscience studies have shown that certain types of music stimulate the production of dopamine and serotonin – two neurotransmitters (chemicals produced by brain cells) that are diminished in PD patients.

Many individuals with Parkinson’s have problems with initiation and consecutive movement. They also have problems with slowness of movement, or bradykinesia. Music, particularly rhythm, can become a template for organizing a series of movements. This process is not automatic. The rhythm must stimulate the impulse or will to move in the PD patient in order for the impulse to transfer into real movement. The music therapist explores various rhythmic patterns or musical styles with the patient to establish which patterns will help with walking, balance and movement in general. Patients report that by focusing on the rhythm and trying to feel its pulse they can better walk or perform consecutive tasks where previously they froze.

In addition to movement, patients with PD may have problems with articulation where their speech becomes slurred and unclear. Sometimes this is due to poor breath support and sometimes it is a result of difficulties with the motor aspects of speech, i.e. moving the mouth and tongue to articulate a specific sound. Patients are encouraged to “sing” and sustain single syllables to promote greater breath support. They are also encouraged to tap their hand while they speak as this aids in the coordination and clarity of their speech.

Sometimes the patient with PD has too much movement and can’t stop the tremors or involuntary movements referred to as dyskinesia. The urge to move may impede the need to relax and may even disrupt sleep. In these instances, slow rhythmic music can slow down overactive body rhythms and induce relaxation and sleep. Other aspects of Parkinson’s Disease can affect a patient’s mood, causing depression, anxiety and even social isolation. Participating in music therapy groups, including therapeutic drumming groups, dance and movement groups, and music therapy support groups, can provide an outlet for self expression and a closer connection to others. Active music therapy can aid in promoting both physical and emotional health and well-being.

Individuals with PD should explore the benefits of music therapy in their overall care. Below are a few self-help techniques that can be tried at home:

  • Explore various styles of music, e.g. Latin, reggae, rock, marches, etc. and find those songs that make you want to move.
  • Create a music library of “music to move by” and bring a portable CD along so that you can play this music while walking. Be careful when using headphones outdoors as this may distract you from paying attention to other sounds in the environment e.g. motor vehicles, bicyclists, etc.
  • Explore music that you like to sing to and use these recordings to help keep your voice strong.
  • Create a “memory” library of your favorite music. Familiar music helps stimulate recall of old memories and meaningful moments in our lives.
  • Explore music that makes you feel relaxed and use this music when you can’t fall to sleep.
  • Participate in group music programs such as a local chorus or social dancing.
  • Find a music therapy program in your area

Music Therapy to Benefit Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease by: Concetta M. Tomaino, DA, MT-BC
Provided by Cameo Rogers, Life Enrichment Coordinator – Vetter Health Services, Elkhorn, NE

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